Yesterday I went with a couple of friends to ICE! at National Harbor. First there was a 7 minute instructional/safety video where we learnt we were about to enter a world of 9 degrees Fahrenheit, how the sculptures were made and instructed not to touch or lick the ice. We were then given bulky and very unflattering blue coats to put on over our own already bulky winter coats – talk about looking like the Michelin (wo)man! I had my own “puffy” coat underneath….
A woman offered to take a photo of the three of us – one day someone will find this photo in isolation and wonder about the blue coats! (not to mention the strange writing on the faces of 2 of the women).
ICE! was in a 15,000 sq foot custom built “igloo” which is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Using 2 million pounds of ice some of the sculptures are made of colored ice blocks (which didn’t look like ice), some sculptures are illuminated internally by some of the 1,400 specially designed LED tube lights and some of the ice is engineered to support everything.
Harbin is in Northeast China where the average winter temperature is only 2 degrees F and where the temperature has been known to drop to -36 F. Apparently Harbin stays below freezing for half the year. So, what does one do when surrounded by ice? Well…. you spend those dark, frozen months learning to carve it.
As part of an Ice Lantern Festival, the carvers would cut blocks of ice out of the Songhua River, make carvings and display them amongst intricately constructed ice lanterns. In 1963, the Mayor of Harbin created a formal competition. The displays were government-sponsored events and organized in public parks and are still held today.
Sadly for any local would-be ice carvers the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers do not freeze enough to provide the huge chunks of ice needed to make anything decent. So the display is made of ice made in an ice factory. There are 3 types of ice used –
3. Colored ice – made by adding food coloring during the freezing process. The water has to be constantly stirred as the coloring is added, and as the block freezes, so that the color is consistent throughout the block (so it’s even when they make slices through the block).
The 400lb blocks of ice are delivered on pallets in 36 refrigerated trucks – 2 trucks a day for nearly 3 weeks which is about as fast as the ice factory can make it. The blocks are moved into place by forklift and the carvers get to work.
After slicing or carving a piece of ice an artisan sprinkles the surface to be bonded with “snow” . He pours water onto the piece and lifts it into position – at 9 degrees F ordinary water freezes very quickly, sticking one piece to another.